On April 5, AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr submitted the following written testimony for the record to the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs to make the case for U.S. security assistance to Israel and robust funding for foreign aid.
As America’s closest ally in the Middle East, Israel acts as an anchor of stability in the Middle East. The two allies have formed an unbreakable partnership, based in large part on an unshakable dedication to common values and interests, and Israel’s security has been a top U.S. priority for decades. Today, Israel faces an unprecedented array of ever-changing threats stemming from the growing instability gripping the Middle East. These challenges require Israel to spend significantly more on its defense. Accordingly, AIPAC strongly urges the Subcommittee to approve $3.1 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for the Jewish state for this fiscal year in accordance with the last year of the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the United States and Israel. By providing this security assistance to Israel, the United States safeguards the Jewish state’s qualitative military edge (QME) over its adversaries and enhances the safety and security of both nations.
In addition, AIPAC urges support for a robust and bipartisan foreign aid program that ensures America’s strong leadership position in the world. At just one percent of the federal budget, foreign aid is a cost-effective and relatively small investment that saves U.S. taxpayer money by helping prevent more costly wars, crises and disasters. Foreign aid enables the United States to support key allies like Israel, spur our job-creating exports, and help prevent unstable areas from becoming breeding grounds for terrorism.
A Region in Turmoil
On Israel’s doorstep, the Middle East continues to face unprecedented chaos. States once ruled by unitary governments have transformed dramatically. Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, and Yemen are only shells of their former selves. And sub-state actors sometimes dominate the landscape.
In this new environment, Israel faces tremendous challenges. On the Jewish state’s northeast border, groups affiliated with the Islamic State, al-Qaida and Jabhat al Nusra have replaced the Syrian army near Israel’s border. While these groups are now preoccupied with fighting each other, Israeli security planners are concerned that they will ultimately turn south to attack Israel. And Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have made no secret of the fact that they seek to directly threaten Israel and gain a foothold along the Golan Heights. Also situated along Israel's northern border, Hezbollah dominates the Lebanese government. The terrorist organization has amassed 150,000 rockets and missiles, more sophisticated and accurate than ever before, with many able to hit targets anywhere in Israel. Designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States since 1995, Hezbollah has killed more Americans than any terrorist group other than al-Qaida.
Iran poses special difficulties. According to the State Department, Iran remains the leading state sponsor of terrorism—financing, arming, and training terrorist groups in the Middle East and around the world. In January 2016, Iran and the P5+1 implemented the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a nuclear accord that limits Tehran’s nuclear program for 10-15 years in exchange for sanctions relief. Iran has utilized sanctions relief to further fuel its support for terrorism and insurgency. Moreover, Iran has conducted at least 15 ballistic missile tests in defiance of U.N. prohibitions; deployed substantial forces to Syria in support of the brutal Assad regime; and increased human rights violations at home. Iran deployed the advanced Russian S-300 surface-to-air missile defense system in 2016. The regime has also deployed thousands of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) personnel to fight in the Syrian civil war. The IRGC arms, trains and funds tens of thousands of Syrian forces, Hezbollah terrorists, and Shia militiamen—some of whom operate directly along Israel’s northern border in the Golan Heights.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas—a designated terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union—poses both an immediate and a longer-term threat to Israeli citizens. The group is constructing an elaborate military infrastructure with which to attack Israeli communities, including a broad network of terror tunnels paid for in part with funds diverted from international humanitarian assistance. At the same time, six million Israelis are now within range of an estimated 10,000 Hamas rockets. Iranian-backed terrorist organizations Hamas and Hezbollah are acquiring new surface-to-air missiles, which could challenge Israel’s air dominance. In the meantime, terrorists are also roaming through the Sinai— posing challenges to both Israel and Egypt.
These represent only some of the many varied threats facing Israel. They illustrate one simple truth: the Jewish state, as America's one stable ally in an increasingly tumultuous region, faces unprecedented strategic challenges on all its fronts. It needs to be ready to confront all those challenges and beat them back decisively.
Israel: A Vital Strategic Partner
As a key pillar of America’s Middle East security framework, the U.S.-Israel strategic partnership plays an indispensable role in combating common threats and furthering America’s regional and global policy objectives. These threats include terrorism, conventional and non-conventional weapons proliferation, counterfeiting, cyber warfare, and the spread of radical Islamist ideology. In this context, Israel’s military strength and central geo-strategic location provide a strong deterrent to regional actors opposed to the United States. Indeed, Israel’s stable, democratic and reliably pro-U.S. orientation remains unquestioned and ensures that America can consistently rely on its alliance with the Jewish state. Put differently, the historic U.S.-Israel alliance is among the only stabilizing features of a very unstable and unpredictable region.
The close strategic relationship between the United States and Israel originated with the two allies sharing key intelligence around the time of the 1967 Six-Day War. This partnership was later broadened and formalized in the early 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir announced the establishment of the Joint Political Military Group to coordinate planning, exercises, and prepositioning against threats faced by both nations in the Middle East. Later in the decade, the United States designated Israel as a major non-NATO ally. Israel is now also a Major Strategic Partner of the United States after enactment of the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014.
Over the last 30 years, the U.S.-Israel relationship has benefitted both countries through, among other things, joint military training programs and joint research and development. Facing common threats, the U.S. and Israel can optimize the response to these threats by working closely together. Twice each year, U.S. Marines conduct desert warfare training with their Israel Defense Forces (IDF) counterparts, and American soldiers and security officials have visited Israel to study Israel's approach to urban combat. U.S. pilots hold mock dogfights with the Israel Air Force and have tested aerial combat tactics and practiced refueling. In addition, Israel and the United States have cooperated on a wide range of intelligence-sharing programs, including monitoring Iran, Syria, al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.
An additional centerpiece of the interaction between the two militaries has been combined missile defense training, including the biannual Juniper Cobra exercise. In this maneuver, U.S. and Israeli forces practice cooperative tactics to counter the growing threat from ballistic missiles and long-range rockets. In 2012, this drill was combined with Austere Challenge, the largest joint bilateral military exercise ever conducted between the two forces. In 2013, the United States, Italy and Greece joined Israel for the Juniper Stallion exercise—the largest military air exercise in Israel’s history.
U.S. Assistance Helps Maintain Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge
U.S. support for Israel through annual security aid has helped the Jewish state maintain its Qualitative Military Edge (QME), which Congress has defined in legislation as Israel’s “ability to counter and defeat any credible conventional military threat from any individual state or possible coalition of states or from non-state actors.” This military superiority has prevented war by deterring Arab states from attacking Israel. Because of America's support for Israel's QME, prospective aggressors know they would face a U.S.-backed ally armed with the world’s most advanced weapon systems. U.S. support for Israel’s security assistance has also encouraged Israel's neighbors to come to the negotiating table, thus playing a key role in securing Israel’s peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt. Continued U.S. aid to those two Mideast allies is also important to helping ensure stability in the region.
Cooperation Produces Critical New Military and Defense Technologies
With America’s support, Israel has developed and deployed a multi-layered missile defense shield. These systems will require ongoing investment to upgrade their capabilities against evolving threats.
Iron Dome: Since 2005, terrorists in Gaza have fired more than 10,000 rockets indiscriminately into Israel, prompting the Jewish state to develop the Iron Dome rocket defense system. This defensive platform has proved its ability to intercept incoming Katyusha-style rockets in mid-air, saving lives and avoiding broader conflict. Recognizing its value, America has already provided $1.1 billion to help Israel purchase the system.
David’s Sling: Just this month, Israel announced that its David’s Sling system is now operational. David’s Sling defends against medium-range heavy rockets and cruise missiles. Developed by U.S. defense company Raytheon and Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., David’s Sling can intercept short- to medium-range rockets and ballistic missiles, including guided projectiles, cruise missiles, aircraft, and drones.
Arrow 2 and 3: The Arrow program is the centerpiece of the U.S.-Israeli cooperative defense relationship. Jointly developed by the two allies, Arrow-2 is among the world's most sophisticated missile shields. Operational since 2000, Arrow-2 has consistently proven that one missile can shoot down another at high altitudes and supersonic speeds. Earlier this year, the system intercepted a missile shot from Syria which threatened the center of Israel. Arrow-3, an upper-tier, exo-atmospheric defense system, is designed to counter long-range conventional and unconventional strategic threats to Israel. It is currently in development, and it was operationally deployed earlier this year.
Saving American Lives on the Battlefield
Israel has also developed dramatic new technologies that have played a key role in saving U.S. lives during military conflicts. To cite just a few of the more important innovations:
F-35 Helmet: An Israeli defense contractor partnered with an American firm to produce the Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS) for F-35 fighter pilots. The helmet displays flight and weapons data for the pilot, providing full situational awareness and the ability to rotate the missiles’ seeker by turning one’s head.
Litening Pod: The Israeli-developed Litening Pod for strike aircraft identifies targets with laser precision from high altitudes, placing the pilot in less danger while reducing collateral damage on the ground.
Distance Door-Breaching System: U.S. forces must often apprehend enemy combatants and terrorists who are holed up in urban safe houses. Breaching the doors of these houses can be a deadly proposition when troops come face to face with armed insurgents. The Israeli SIMON door-breaching system can blast down steel or wooden doors from a distance of up to 130 feet.
Advanced Detection of Explosives: Remote-controlled explosive devices have caused thousands of U.S. casualties in recent years. The U.S. military uses various Israeli technologies that can detect remote-controlled explosive devices and other weapons.
Emergency Bandage: Carried in every U.S. soldier's first-aid kit, this Israeli-designed bandage stems blood loss, prevents infection and allows non-medically trained soldiers to stabilize wounded. This bandage was instrumental in saving the life of former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and several others in the aftermath of a 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona.
Increased Israeli Defense Spending
Spiraling defense costs are forcing Israel to spend more on security as a percentage of GDP than any other nation in the industrialized world. Israel officially allocates nearly 6 percent of its GDP for defense. However, the actual costs to the Israeli economy are much higher when taking into account lost productivity and the need for reserve duty, internal security and anti-terrorism spending. For example, a single F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will cost Israel just less than $100 million, over twice the cost of an F-16 fighter jet purchased under the first U.S.-Israel agreement in 1998. Even as the Jewish state faces its own substantial budgetary pressures, Israel may have to spend $150-175 billion on defense over the next decade to prepare for the wide spectrum of threats.
A Robust Foreign Aid Budget Is Critical to U.S. National Security
AIPAC strongly believes that the broader U.S. foreign aid budget, which includes security assistance to Israel, is an essential component of America’s national security strategy. Nearly 75 percent of our assistance to Israel comes right back to the United States through the purchase of U.S.-made aircraft and other equipment.
Beyond aid to Israel, U.S. foreign aid also helps American companies develop foreign markets, build stable business environments in developing countries, and thereby help create jobs at home. Foreign aid programs also help bring education, health care and transportation to hundreds of millions of potential new customers. Today, one in five American jobs is linked to U.S. exports. Foreign markets offer the best opportunities to expand the American economy. At little more than one percent of the federal budget, foreign aid is a cost-effective and relatively small investment that saves U.S. taxpayers money. Using foreign aid dollars wisely today helps prevent the more costly wars and crises that might otherwise occur. Prevention—whether of terror attacks, weapons proliferation, pandemic disease, economic meltdown, societal collapse or the spread of radical ideology—is always cheaper and easier.
Few can predict what the coming year will bring in the Middle East, but one thing remains certain: The United States is strong when Israel is strong. This Subcommittee—headed so ably by Chairman Rogers and Ranking Member Lowey—deserves great credit for its stalwart advocacy for the U.S.-Israel relationship and the overall foreign aid budget over the years. This support will remain even more critical as America and Israel continue to work together to meet the challenges that lie ahead and to advance the goals of a peaceful, stable and pro-Western Middle East.
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